food

UConn Extension: Committed to a Sustainable Future 

fall newsletter collage of three pictures and story titles

Connecticut has faced challenges related to sustainable landscapes, food and agriculture, health, and the climate for generations. As problems are solved, new issues arise. UConn Extension educators work in all 169 cities and towns of Connecticut to help solve the problems that our residents, communities, and state face. Connecting people with agriculture, the natural environment, and healthy lifestyles are critical components to a sustainable future. Extension works collaboratively with our partners and stakeholders to find solutions that improve our communities for the next generation.

Read the fall newsletter.

How to Roast Pumpkin Seeds!

Written by UConn Dietetics Student Hannah Waxler

The Fall season brings to us a favorite squash!! Pumpkin! Did you know it’s a squash? Pumpkin and the spices that seem to flavor it best are added to just about everything: pumpkin coffee, pumpkin muffins, and of course, pumpkin pie! As delicious as pumpkin treats are, did you know that the seeds of a pumpkin can also be roasted and enjoyed?

Pumpkin seeds are an excellent source of many nutrients, including fiber, protein, magnesium, and potassium1. Pumpkin seeds can be seasoned in many ways and are delightfully crunchy when roasted, which makes them a great addition to salads, trail mixes and for a simple snack-in-a-handful!

Check out this simple way to make your own roasted pumpkin seeds:

  1. Get a pumpkin!
  2. Fill a large bowl with warm water
  3. Preheat oven to 275 degrees
  4. Wash your hands!
  5. Carefully, use a sharp knife to cut around the top of the pumpkin around the stem, and then pull on the stem to take off.
  6. Using a large spoon or your hands, pull all of the seeds out of the pumpkin and place the clumps of seeds directly into the bowl of water. This will get messy, but it’s fun! The stringy orange pulp in the pumpkin can be discarded when pulled out with the seeds.
  7. Use your hands to separate any remaining pumpkin pulp from the seeds in the bowl of water. The pulp will sink, and the seeds will float once in the water.
  8. Strain seeds out of the water with a colander, and pat the seeds dry with a paper towel.
  9. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
  10. Place cleaned and dried pumpkin seeds in a bowl. Now it is time to season them! This is the fun part!
  • For a sweet, pumpkin pie flavor, use equal parts cinnamon, nutmeg and cloves.
  • For a savory flavor option, use equal parts salt, pepper, garlic, and cumin.
  • Use your own spice mixture as well!
  • Once seasonings sprinkled on, use your hands to mix seeds well.
  1. Lay seasoned pumpkin seeds out in a single layer on the baking sheet.
  2. Bake the seasoned pumpkin seeds for 30-35 minutes at 275 degrees. Every 15 minutes, carefully open the oven and using a spoon or pancake flipper, stir the seeds around so they are able to roast evenly.
  3. Once the seeds are lightly browned, remove from the oven and allow to cool on pan.
  4. Store the roasted pumpkin seeds in a sealed container at room temperature.

seeds coming out of carved pumpkin with kid looking on in background hand holding seeds in front of a pumpkin holding pumpkin seeds over bowl

There are many ways you can enjoy your toasted pumpkin seeds! A few ideas:

  • Sprinkle on top of a green salad
  • Add them into a trail mix or granola
  • Sprinkle on top of yogurt
  • Enjoy these crunchy treats on their own

Happy roasting!

pumpkin seeds on tray ready for roasting roasted pumkin seeds ready to eat

Citation:

  1. USDA https://ndb.nal.usda.gov/fdc-app.html#/food-details/784459/nutrients. Accessed October 10, 2020.

This material was funded by USDA’s Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP).

This institution is an equal opportunity provider.

Extension Program Receives USDA-NIFA Grant to Help Beginning Farmers Prosper

Yoko Takemura and Alex Copper showing off their labor
Yoko Takemura and Alex Cooper from Assawaga farm enjoy showing off the fruits of their
labor. (Photos courtesy of Assawaga farm).

Beginning farmers in Connecticut are changing the face of agriculture. With their values driven, sustainable-minded farming practices, they are filling the direct-to-consumer marketplace with high quality food grown intensively on small parcels. Since 2012, UConn Extension, part of the College of Agriculture, Health and Natural Resources, and its partners have responded to the growing number of beginning farmers with core training in production and business management. In recent years, it was clear that advanced-level beginning farmers (with 6-10 years of experience) were facing more complex challenges as they grappled with decisions about scale, diversification, infrastructure, and risk.

Starting this winter, UConn Extension and partners will respond to this emerging need with a new grant funded by U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture. The grant is Solid Ground 2: Weaving Together Expert Trainings and Peer Networks for Sustained Beginner and Advanced-Beginner Farmer Success in Connecticut. It is a three-year project funded at $525,000 that builds upon the accomplishments of the existing Solid Ground Training Program to deliver increasingly relevant, high quality trainings that respond to beginning farmer skill gaps at the appropriate level.

“The new grant leverages the capacity, talent, and integrity of partner organizations to meet the needs of beginning farmers that were unmet through our Solid Ground trainings in previous years,” says Jiff Martin, the Extension Educator leading the project. “We also intend to help address the very real barrier of finding farmland for new and beginning farmers, including the unique challenges created by structural racism when farmers of color seek farmland.”

While there are many excellent opportunities in agriculture, beginning farmers and ranchers have unique needs for education, training, and technical assistance. For those within their first 10 years of operation, it’s vital they have access to capital, land, and knowledge and information to help improve their operations’ profitability and sustainability.

“Beginning farmers can be divided into two groups – early-stage and advanced-level beginning farmers,” says Charlotte Ross, one of the project co-coordinators. “Slightly more than half (52%) of beginning farmer operators have been operating a farm for six to 10 years, and the remainder (48%) have been farming for five years or less.”

Beginning farmers comprise 28% of the principal operators on Connecticut farms, and there are 2,132 beginning farmers in total. The Solid Ground program is targeting 700 farms that earn between $2,500 and $50,000 individually. The average age of Connecticut’s beginning farmers is 47.9, only slightly higher than the national average of 46.3.

“While beginning farmer owned farm businesses are generating $97 million in product sales, only 32% can farm as a primary occupation, and most (79%) depend on off farm-income at varying levels. This is the reality of small farming enterprises in Connecticut—they are often part-time, seasonal businesses that generate tremendous value to our communities in terms of land stewardship and local food markets but are typically not at a scale to support multiple employees with fair wages and benefits.” Martin states. The next three years of the Solid Ground Program will help beginning farmers build critical peer networks with each other, gain insight on entrepreneurial models, discover cost-saving DIY infrastructure projects for the farm, and improve their skills in agroecology, agriculture mechanics, urban agriculture, and soil health.

UConn Extension and its partners will work together to deliver exceptional training and networking opportunities that are practical, convenient, and accessible. UConn Extension will serve as the administrative and communications foundation on the project. Two school-based agricultural education organizations will host Agriculture Mechanic trainings for beginning farmers. Front-line community-based organizations led by people of color will plan and deliver urban farming training in the cities of Bridgeport, Hartford, and New Haven. Two statewide non-government organizations with a strong base of beginning farmer members will work together to implement peer networking. A regional non-government organization will coordinate matchmaking events for farmland seekers. The structure of decision-making embedded throughout this project ensures that voices of color are empowered to steer training priorities.

Project leaders will strive to deliver services in a manner that ensures equitable access to learning opportunities. The project’s overall approach recognizes the integrity and new knowledge that the beginning farmer community, and the organizations they belong to, can offer to the broader agriculture sector in our state.

UConn Extension team members include Nancy Barrett, Matt DeBacco, Kip Kolesinskas, Charlotte Ross, Rebecca Toms, and MacKenzie White. Partner organizations on the project are Connecticut Northeast Organic Farming Association, Land For Good, Love Fed Initiative, the New Connecticut Farmer Alliance, Connecticut Farmland Trust, American Farmland Trust, the Connecticut Department of Agriculture, Green Village Initiative, the Keney Park Sustainability Project, Park City Harvest, the Nonnewaug High School Agri-Science program, the Rockville High School Agri-Science program, and the Connecticut Farm Bureau Young Farmers Committee.

UConn CAHNR Extension has more than 100 years’ experience strengthening communities in Connecticut and beyond. Extension programs address the full range of issues set forth in CAHNR’s strategic initiatives:

  • Ensuring a vibrant and sustainable agricultural industry and food supply
  • Enhancing health and well-being locally, nationally, and globally
  • Designing sustainable landscapes across urban-rural interfaces
  • Advancing adaptation and resilience in a changing climate.

Programs delivered by Extension reach individuals, communities, and businesses in each of Connecticut’s 169 municipalities.

Pumpkin’s a Good Pick for Your Health!

Written by UConn Dietetics Student Alexa Horkachuck

Autumn is finally here, which means that pumpkin flavored products are flooding into your local grocery store. If you’re a fan, you will find everything from pumpkin cream cheese and pumpkin spice lattes to pumpkin pastas and soups. There is bound to be a recipe that you would enjoy making and eating!

carved pumpkin on a tablePumpkin is a tasty vegetable that is packed with healthful benefits for you and your family to enjoy. It is low in calories, sodium, and fat, while high in fiber to help keep you full throughout the day. It is also a great source of beta-carotene which your body converts to vitamin A – a powerful antioxidant which helps improve your skin and eye health. Pumpkin also has vitamin C to keep your immune system strong through the upcoming winter. It also is packed with potassium, and low in sodium which can help prevent high blood pressure!

When cooking with fresh pumpkin, it is important to pay attention to what type of pumpkin you are using and how much of the pumpkin you need to use! For cooking at home, purchase fresh sugar-pumpkins (also called pie or sweet pumpkins), which are small and round. Field types of pumpkins are larger, have watery, stringy flesh, and are best used for decorating like Jack-O-Lanterns.

Check this out to learn about different types of pumpkins!

https://www.thekitchn.com/the-best-pumpkins-for-baking-ingredient-intelligence-211333

Fresh pumpkin is easy to prepare in an oven, check it out!

https://www.thespruceeats.com/how-to-roast-pumpkin-4115845

You can replace fresh, pureed pumpkin with equal amounts of canned pumpkin in your favorite recipes. For example, substitute 1 cup fresh, pureed pumpkin called for in a recipe with 1 cup canned pumpkin.

  • Canned pumpkin is certainly more convenient and relatively inexpensive, typically costing around $1-2 for a 15-oz can. Be sure to buy 100% pure pumpkin and not pumpkin pie filling or pumpkin pie “mix” by accident! The “filling and mix styles” add unwanted sugars that you do not need in most recipes.
  • Once opened, canned pumpkin can be stored in your refrigerator for up to 5-7 days. You can also stir canned pumpkin into oatmeal, pancakes, smoothies, and vanilla yogurt for added flavor. Add it to soups and stews to thicken them.
  • Be sure to transfer any leftover canned pumpkin to an airtight container and store in the fridge.

Here are two delicious ways to use fresh or canned pumpkin.  For more tasty, healthy, and low-cost recipes, visit: https://communitynutrition.cahnr.uconn.edu/recipes/

Pumpkin Soup Makes ~6 cups bowl of pumpkin soup on a saucer

Ingredients:

1 tbsp butter

½ small onion, finely chopped

1 can (15 oz.) solid packed pumpkin

2 cups water

½ cup milk

1 tbsp. maple syrup

¼ tsp. salt

Freshly ground pepper to taste

Instructions

  1. Melt butter in a large saucepan over medium heat; add onion and cook, stirring often until very soft, about 8 minutes. Do not burn.
  2. Add pumpkin, water, milk, syrup, salt, and pepper; bring to a boil.
  3. Reduce heat and simmer for 10 minutes, whisking often.
  4. Let cool and then cover and chill. Bring to a simmer before serving.

Pumpkin Apple Cake Serves: 24

Ingredients:

1 package white cake mix

1 can (15 oz.) pumpkin puree

1 tsp. cinnamon

⅔ cup apple juice

3 eggs

1 tsp. vanilla

Nonstick cooking spray and flour

Instructions:

  1. Preheat oven to 350℉.
  2. Combine cake mix, pumpkin, cinnamon, apple juice, eggs, and vanilla in a large mixing bowl.
  3. Beat at low speed for 30 seconds. Beat at medium speed for 2 minutes.
  4. Pour into a 12 cup Bundt pan or a 9” x 13” cake pan that has been sprayed with cooking spray and floured.
  5. Bake for 35-40 minutes or until a wooden toothpick inserted in the cake center comes out clean.
  6. Cool for 10 minutes. Then invert onto wire rack to cool completely

This material was funded by USDA’s Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP).

This institution is an equal opportunity provider.

Cholesterol Education with the UConn Dietetics Program

Written by UConn Dietetics student Madeline Fulton

93 million U.S. adults age 20 or older have total cholesterol levels higher than 200 mg/dL. Nearly 29 million adult Americans have total cholesterol levels higher than 240 mg/dL.1

Too much cholesterol circulating in your blood can put you at risk for developing heart disease and stroke. What is cholesterol? It’s a waxy, fat-like substance made by our livers. Cholesterol is needed for our bodies to produce hormones, digest fatty foods, and other important jobs. Our bodies produce the right amount of cholesterol needed. There are two types of cholesterol we care most about: “GOOD” (aka HDL) and “BAD” (aka LDL). We want more “GOOD” cholesterol in our bodies because it helps our bodies get rid of the “BAD” cholesterol. The “BAD”, or less healthy cholesterol, can build up over time and cause our arteries to become stiff and narrow. This reduces the blood flow which could result in blockage to the heart (a heart attack) or the brain (a stroke). Cholesterol in our blood is affected MOST by eating saturated fats (fatty meats, butter, baked goods) and trans fats (fried fast food, vegetable oil, microwave popcorn, some stick margarines).

The way you can help yourself and improve your cholesterol levels is to:

  1. KNOW YOUR NUMBERS. Don’t miss doctor’s appointments or lab work.

    chart with cholesterol guidelienes
    National Cholesterol Education Program Guidelines, 2018
  2. Learn and be aware of the foods that can help you control your good and bad cholesterol, as well as, the saturated and trans fats you eat:
    • “Good” cholesterol (aka HDL) is affected in a good way by foods like nuts, seeds, legumes, olive oil, canola oil, fatty fish (salmon, mackerel, tuna), flax and chia seeds, avocado, high fiber fruits and vegetables, and whole grains.
    • “Bad” cholesterol (aka LDL) is affected by foods like fatty cuts of meat, full-fat dairy products, deep-fried fast foods, processed foods (chips, cookies, other snack foods), and butter.
    • Review your diet. Only on occasion should you eat rich (highly marbled) meats, cream, butter, and fried foods.
  1. Participate in at least 150 minutes of moderate physical activity per week. Aerobic exercise (those that increase your heart rate) can help improve your GOOD cholesterol levels. Aerobic types of exercise include: walking, running, biking, or jumping rope.2
  2. Drink alcohol in moderation. The current recommendation for females is up to one drink per day; while the recommendation for males is up to two drinks per day. “One drink” is considered one glass (5 oz.) of wine, one beer (12 oz), or 1.5 oz of hard liquor.3
  3. If diet and exercise plans don’t seem to be lowering your cholesterol numbers into a healthy range, medication might be necessary. Make sure to speak with your doctor to see what plan will work best for you!

Tip: Small changes go a long way when it comes to managing your cholesterol! The small changes will add up, helping you to develop long-lasting lifestyle and nutrition changes.

Citations

  1. Virani SS, Alonso A, Benjamin EJ, Bittencourt MS, Callaway CW, Carson AP, et al. Heart disease and stroke statistics—2020 update: a report from the American Heart Association. Circulation. 2020. Accessed September 21, 2020.
  2. S. Department of Health and Human Services. 2008. Health (San Francisco) 2008 Physical Activity. Accessed September 21, 2020.
  3. Agriculture, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and U.S. Department of. 2015. “2015 – 2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans.” 2015 – 2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans (8th edition). Accessed September 21, 2020.

This material is funded by USDA’s Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP).  

This institution is an equal opportunity provider.

Improving Health and Nutrition in Hartford

girl sitting in grass drinking orange juice out of straw with basket of fruits and vegetables next to herParticipants at the Village Family Resource Center at Burns Latino Studies Academy in Hartford wanted more information on health and nutrition. Our Expanded Food and Nutrition Education program (EFNEP) partnered with the Family Resource Center to provide five educational outreach sessions in 2019. Community members wanted to learn about food security, healthy choices, feeding children, quick and easy healthy recipes, how to include more fruits and vegetables, and how to save time and money. Parents shared with our team that they struggle with diabetes, high blood pressure, and other health issues.

The workshop series covered food safety, reading and understanding food facts, meal planning, MyPlate, and portion control. We made our own spices to substitute Adobo, Sazón, and a mix of herbs and spices for soups to control sodium intake. In another workshop we made a quick and easy lasagna using spinach and zucchini.

Participants learned measuring skills, and how to use new kitchen tools to make prep time fast and easy. We also helped them develop meal planning strategies with ingredients they have at home. We encouraged them to track their spending, and have their children help with the math for extra practice.

One parent shared with us, “I am a diabetic and have been trying to start eating healthy. It has been so hard because I didn’t know what foods and how much I could eat. Now I am making changes, measuring, and using an app to keep track.” After a few diet analyses she was making positive changes that she also shared with her dietician.

We are continuing to serve community members in Hartford, and provide educational outreach programs that help improve nutrition and health outcomes. Our EFNEP program also works with other communities statewide to help our residents.

Article by Angela Caldera

Urban Agriculture in Bridgeport

Blumenthal and urban ag students

Extension works on urban agriculture projects in cities including Danbury, Stamford and Bridgeport. We are collaborating with food accessibility and food justice organizations in Bridgeport to build capacity growing fresh vegetables.

Growing sites include schools, community centers and capped brown fields. Partners provide healthy food and train underserved, diverse audiences in farming.

UConn Extension offered two urban agriculture courses in Bridgeport, collaborating with Green Village Initiative. We implemented a year-round urban agriculture program in both English and Spanish. Fifteen urban residents from Bridgeport completed the 2018 program.

The Food Justice AmeriCorps VISTA Project service program built organizational capacity in community food security and food justice. Food justice helps communities grow, market, and eat healthy foods. Our partners empowered their communities through food programs and services. Host sites shared best practices and learned new skills in engaging people through participatory decision-making. We had four VISTA service members in Bridgeport. Host organizations were: the Bridgeport Farmers Market Collaborative, CTCORE— Organize Now!, Green Village Initiative, and at Housatonic Community College.

Article by Bonnie Burr and Jiff Martin

Students’ IDEA Grant Will Showcase Innovative Agriculture

collage showing photos of three students, Jon Russo, Ally Schneider and Zach Duda
Jonathan Russo, Alyson Schneider, and Zachary Duda

A group of students from the UConn College of Agriculture, Health and Natural Resources (CAHNR) received an IDEA grant from the UConn Office of Undergraduate Research. Their project will help bridge the communication gap between agriculture and consumers. Approximately two percent of the population is involved in agriculture, but we all need to eat every day. There is a growing disconnect between agriculture and consumers because they are not involved in agriculture. Misinformation about food and agriculture is also increasing. Connecting consumers to farms expands their access to relevant information.

Zachary Duda, Jonathan Russo, and Alyson Schneider are producing a documentary film, Completely Connecticut Agriculture: Agricultural Innovation. Their goal is to show consumers examples of innovative agriculture in our state. All three students are Agriculture and Natural Resources majors in CAHNR, graduating in 2021. Jon has a double major in Sustainable Plant and Soil Systems. Stacey Stearns of UConn Extension is serving as their mentor, and other faculty and staff from UConn Extension are serving in advisory roles on the project.

“Around the world there has been a large disconnect with consumers and producers regarding basic knowledge about agriculture,” Zach says. “We want to highlight some farms and programs in Connecticut that target that disconnect and better educate the public while helping them connect to agriculture.”

The idea for this project formed several years ago, when Zach, Jon and Ally were all serving as state FFA officers. Their experiences have shown them many aspects of Connecticut agriculture. The students understand how innovative and resourceful agriculture in the state is and wanted to bridge the disconnect between consumers and agricultural operations. They have also witnessed how Connecticut agriculture helps support a sustainable food supply for residents, and how uncommon commodities diversify and enhance farm profitability.

The three students will visit various farms across the state, meet with agricultural leaders, and film day to day operations as well as thoughts from farmers and leaders on the future of agriculture in Connecticut. The video will showcase innovation in Connecticut that breaks barriers through diversity, education, and disproves misconceptions about agricultural operations. The students will lead viewers through the film and connect with the consumer as they learn about each of the innovative agricultural operations along with the audience.

Filming will take place later this summer and into the fall. Social distancing guidelines for COVID-19 revised some plans. The students selected fifteen farms to include in their documentary – and each of the farms showcases one or more of the three theme areas:

  • Sustainable Food Supply,
  • Consumer Disconnect, and
  • Uncommon Commodities.

Local food is a buzzword that has gained popularity in recent years. Many consumers associate fruits and vegetables with local food. “We want to highlight how producers are using innovative techniques to yield more local food so we can show that there is so many more products for Connecticut residents to purchase when they are looking to buy local,” Ally says. The COVID-19 pandemic has increased the importance of local food for many residents, and agricultural producers throughout the state have risen to the challenge by pivoting their business and finding new ways to deliver products to consumers.

A sustainable food supply is also environmentally balanced. It ensures that future generations can continue producing food and enjoying their lifestyle. “Through various practices such as no-till, renewable energy, fishing quotas, soil amendments, and crop selection we want to show consumers that Connecticut agriculture is becoming more environmentally friendly even as production is on the rise,” Jon says.

Some audiences view agriculture from a traditional mindset. The video will dispel traditional agricultural myths by showing uncommon commodities that farms are producing and selling. Examples of unique products on Connecticut agricultural operations include popcorn, chocolate, and flowerpots made from cow manure.

UConn CAHNR Extension has more than 100 years’ experience strengthening communities in Connecticut and beyond. Extension programs address the full range of issues set forth in CAHNR’s strategic initiatives:

  • Ensuring a vibrant and sustainable agricultural industry and food supply
  • Enhancing health and well-being locally, nationally, and globally
  • Designing sustainable landscapes across urban-rural interfaces
  • Advancing adaptation and resilience in a changing climate.

Programs delivered by Extension reach individuals, communities, and businesses in each of Connecticut’s 169 municipalities. Our Extension educators are working with the various agricultural operations featured in the documentary to help them adopt innovative practices and create a sustainable food supply.

Our students are helping bridge the communication gap between farmers and consumers with their documentary that will showcase the innovative agriculture practices happening right here on farms in Connecticut. Farming has many positive aspects that will be the focus of the film. The students plan to address agriculture’s challenges as well and share Connecticut agriculture’s story with consumer audiences. Film screening will be in the spring of 2021.

Genetic Engineering Professional Development

teachers in laboratory with Dr. Gerry Berkowitz learning about DNA and GMO ]The American public is growing increasingly skeptical about the safety of genetically modified (GM) foods. Despite consensus in the scientific community that foods containing GM ingredients are safe, nearly half of Americans believe otherwise. Younger adults are also more likely to regard GM foods a health risk.

In order to address misunderstandings about GM foods and provide information about the applications of genetic engineering in agriculture and other fields, a team is developing a program to enhance science literacy for educators and young adults. The team is collaborating to create a standards-based curriculum and laboratory-based professional development for secondary school teachers on genetic engineering. The project aims to build the knowledge and confidence of educators and provide them with materials to deliver lessons related to genetic engineering in their classrooms.

High school teachers will participate in training at the Storrs campus, where they will utilize laboratory resources and build connections with academia and industry professionals. The networking opportunity will also allow educators to share career opportunities in the field of genetics with students. In addition to the professional development workshop, the program will prepare simpler exercises that can be taught outside of classroom and without the resources of a lab setting, such as during 4-H youth activities, to introduce scientific concepts.

Read the full article at http://bit.ly/UConn_PDSTEP.

Article by Jason M. Sheldon